22 May 2011

Mini Reviews 22/05/2011

While we may not always have the time to review all the comics we get every week, we do try and provide a snapshot of the latest releases, mixing the good with the not so good.

This week also includes the latest instalment of Matt C's Secret Wars Project.


ALPHA FLIGHT #0.1
Writers: Greg Pak & Fred Van Lente
Art: Ben Oliver, Dan Green & Frank Martin
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Phew, Marvel must surely be running out of great Point One issues now? Once again the initiative pays dividends as Pak and Van Lente light the touch paper under Canada’s first and best superhero team. I really have enjoyed what the two writers have accomplished here, taking us around some of the members of the team in a ‘roll-call’ type fashion but with a neat level of subtlety that allows newer readers to get a quick grip on these characters while hopefully not grating on the die-hard fans too much. Plus it allows the political nature of the upcoming storyline to be established AND allows Ben Oliver to really grab my attention with some fantastic visuals. Seriously, this guy - with the aid of Green and Martin - knows how to deliver an attractive book! A very promising start that has me looking at a title I hadn’t previously been interested in. 8/10

Matt C: While I was never a huge fan, I've always had a soft spot for Alpha Flight, but I only really engaged with them when John Byrne was in charge back in the '80s. I've looked in on them from time to time but while I liked the fact that they existed, I never really felt compelled to keep them under continuous watch. Still, I was rather pissed off when Bendis decided to wipe most of them out during a couple of pages of a New Avengers issue (one of the more obvious examples of his abuse of continuity) and glad when they were finally resurrected. I decided to give this a whirl as I've enjoyed a lot of what Van Lente and Pak have done in the past, and while it was a perfectly acceptable superhero read with some rather impressive visuals from Oliver (bar his interpretation of Sasquatch, which I’m not too keen on) there was nothing I saw that really jumped out and grabbed me, nothing that made me feel this deserved a place on my pull list. I'm glad there's an Alpha Flight series back in the marketplace, and I hope it gets an audience because it's not a bad book, but it's also not a book that I'll be following. 6/10


BATMAN: GATES OF GOTHAM #1
Writer: Scott Snyder & Kyle Higgins
Art: Trevor McCarthy & Guy Major
DC $2.99

James R: Scott Snyder's arrival on Detective Comics has been a revelation - as I've said before, it's easily my favourite current superhero title. One of the many great things he's done is bring Gotham, and it's effects on the psyche, to the fore of the book, and this miniseries represents an extension of that, plotting a tale of Gotham's past and present as the Bat-family fight against a mysterious bomber with a grudge against the old families of the city. Kyle Higgins works flawlessly with Snyder on the dialogue, and the art from McCarthy and Major is suitably dark without being tough to read. It's brilliant to see Snyder using Bruce Wayne and - hey! - Cassandra Cain too (and making her fit into Batman Incorporated continuity!). Sorry to sound like a broken record, but once again this is a great time to be a Bat-fan with Morrison and Snyder producing outstanding work. This miniseries looks like it will easily continue the standard. 8/10

Matt C: I would say with a certain measure of confidence that Scott Synder is currently the Paradox Comics Group's Bat-writer of choice following his recent work on Detective, so you can bet that many of us picked up the debut issue of this mini this week. It turns out Snyder receives a story credit but isn't responsible for the ‘dialogue’ - that's fallen to 'unknown' (well, he is to me!) Kyle Higgins to handle and he actually doesn't do a bad job at all. No one's reinventing the wheel here, instead Higgins (and Synder) are telling an engaging Batman story that incorporates various elements that we've seen before but does so in such a confident, enjoyable manner that you can't avoid being entertained. McCarthy's art has a slick animation kind of kick to it, and it works particularly well in some impressive action scenes. As long as you don't go in expecting something revolutionary then I’d recommend you get onboard with what has the makings of being a very decent Bat-tale. 7/10


X-MEN #11
Writer: Victor Gischler
Art: Al Barrionuevo, Michael Lacombe & Rain Beredo
Marvel $3.99

Stewart R: Following two big and successful arcs it feels a little strange to find a single, contained chapter turn up in Gischler’s run and one which, in my opinion, wouldn’t feel out of place in Mike Carey’s X-Men Legacy considering that it’s pretty Xavier-focused (though obviously looks at Jubilee’s recent transformation into a vampire too). We’re given a flashback to one of Charles’ early adventures and first meetings with a bloodsucker as he offers hope to Jubilee that she doesn’t have to follow the clich├ęd and destructive route of thirst for blood and power. What follows is a tale of African mystery, gun and knife fights, with a cocky Charles Xavier still learning to use his powers to become the great man that formed the X-Men. There’s plenty going on for sure; Gischler does a good job of portraying Xavier as a young man on the lookout for adventure and there’s a varied cast of thugs and female Russian gangsters to keep things interesting. The small problem is, despite enjoying this read, it still felt like the sort of thing found as a backup and, for $3.99 (and considering what has come before), I expect something a little more from this book. 7/10


UNDYING LOVE #2
Writer: Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman
Art: Tomm Coker & Daniel Freedman
Image $2.99

Stewart R: There’s a real sense of intensity and urgency to this gun-filled vampire tale that makes it quite a compelling read and means that once again Image have managed to follow up a promising debut with successful second chapter. This particular issue sees the rugged and grizzled John Sargent take the fight directly to one of Hong Kong’s top vampires in the hope of bringing out the big boss who holds the key to Mei’s salvation. Looking through the credentials of this creative team there are titles mentioned that suddenly makes everything slot into place - Punisher, Daredevil, Wolverine - and the grimy, realistic feel depicted throughout (vampires aside of course!) screams of aspects and elements I’d associate with those other books. Coker and Freedman keep the cast small, the dialogue brief and effective, and the plan clear to ensure one hell of a whirlwind read. If the rest of Image’s No #1 campaign passed you by you should look here if you’re after something dark, brooding and brilliant. 8/10


INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #504
Writer: Matt Fraction
Art: Salvador Larroca & Frank D'Armata
Marvel $3.99

James R: He may be invincible, but The Underwhelming Iron Man seems a more apposite title for this book at the moment. This issue is a - ugh - Fear Itself tie-in (an event that has looked spectacularly pointless from the word go for me) and the plot here just felt leaden. Tony Stark investigates a disaster in Paris as the Grey Gargoyle wigs out and turns the denizens of the city into stone. It looks lovely - Larroca and D'Armata are a top-draw team - but I felt disconnected from the plot, which showed no signs of Fraction's gift for crafting dynamic and insightful stories. By the last page I had no interest in seeing how this one plays out, and the ongoing Stark Resilient soap opera is entirely free of dramatic tension. Seeing that Marvel insist on keeping this book at $3.99, I'm now starting to think that I could live without it until it takes on a new writer or a drastic new direction. 5/10

Stewart R: There are some Invincible Iron Man issues where Fraction takes the lead and Larroca gets to sit back a little and then others where Fraction throws a simple idea Salvador’s way and he really gets to go with it. This feels like one of those immense latter moments as Fraction’s major ongoing title gets sucked into Fear Itself in the most intense of ways. From the initial shot of the Grey Gargoyle sat atop Notre Dame cathedral to the armour-crunching encounter between his transformed self and everyone’s favourite gold and red hero, this is a superb piece of visual storytelling told against a devastating backdrop. The fate that befalls Paris does unfortunately smack of some miraculous ‘reset button’ approach to Fear Itself, which has me concerned for the event rather than this title’s involvement, but that’s a point for a few months down the line. For the moment this is once again a thrilling comic read. 8/10


CHEW #27
Writer: John Layman
Art: Rob Guillory & Taylor Wells
Image $2.99

Stewart R: The experiment has definitely worked! Layman and Guillory jump us almost a year into the future to bring us a story - which will be printed in the correct numerical order in trade paperback when it comes around - that shows that Tony has a troubled hospital visit coming his way and allows us to find out what his fraternal twin sister Toni Chu is all about. This adds several delightful mysteries to the mix, adds a few extra faces to this expansive and intriguing cast, and ties things to events that we’ve already experienced since issue #1 all those many, brilliant moons ago. The relationship between Toni and her boss, Supervisor Sharma, certainly looks promising and it’s going to be a great ride finding out what transpires to get us to this point. Plus, how much fun are the Chogs?? Great work Mr Guillory and Mr Layman! 8/10


UNCANNY X-FORCE #10
Writer: Rick Remender
Art: Billy Tan, Rich Elson & Paul Mounts
Marvel $3.99

Matt C: A superb cover from Esad Ribic gives way to some far shinier artwork than we’ve seen on the series so far. Surprisingly that didn’t bug me as much as I thought it would as both Tan and Elson turn in some quality work, but really it’s a testament to Remender’s writing on the book that it can withstand artistic shifts and still remain enthralling. Here we see Angel finally snapping as Archangel takes full, murderous control, and his colleagues realise that drastic action needs to be taken. When you recall some of the drastic action X-Force have taken since the series began you’ll probably gather that they aren’t intent on giving Angel a stern talking to. It looks like we’re headed into the Age of Apocalypse next month, which suggests we’ll be sucked a little further into X-continuity, but based on what Remender has done so far I have no doubt that he can keep his individual take on the world of mutants free of contamination. An unexpected bonus this month sees the inclusion of an entire issue of another comic, Iron Man 2.0 #3. I’m not sure whether this is generosity or desperation on Marvel’s part, but I was pleased with the addition as it was actually a pretty good read, capturing the same kind of vibe as Fraction’s excellent Invincible Iron Man. I’m not sure it’s quite enough to get me to pick up an issue as I’ve never been that taken with War Machine, but I may be tempted if I spotted it on the shelf and I certainly won’t have a problem if Marvel do something like this again in the future. 8/10


BATMAN AND ROBIN #23
Writer: Judd Winick
Art: Guillem March & Andrei Bresson
DC $2.99

James R: This had the potential to be an epic fail for me. Firstly, I've never been convinced by Judd Winick as a writer, and feel he's not got to grips with Gotham in the same way that, for example, Scott Snyder has. Secondly, I'm also pretty underwhelmed by Guillem March as an artist - his style seemed a total misfit on Gotham City Sirens. So do two wrongs make a right? Almost. Winick returns to Grant Morrison's Red Hood storyline and we see Jason Todd initiate a plan to continue his psychopathic war on Gotham's underworld from behind bars. It's a pacey read and kudos to Winick for that. March’s art is okay - it remains a little too sketchy in some places, and oddly mangaesque in others. The problem here is that it didn't feel like an issue of Batman And Robin - under Morrison's stewardship the book had a particular flavour with stories tinted with strangeness and Dick & Damien front and centre. This just felt like a standard Batman comic, and that makes for a missed opportunity for me. Alright, but no more than that. 6/10


SILVER SURFER #4
Writer: Greg Pak
Art: Harvey Tolibao, Iban Coello, Sandu Florea & Wil Quintana
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Just as I advised you all to pick up the Taskmaster miniseries I find myself urging you to get a hold of this great Silver Surfer story. This issue is a heart-pounding tale of love and action as Norrin tries his best in his vulnerable human form to save Suzi Endo from her fate as the herald of the High Evolutionary. Pak throws the Future Foundation into the mix this time which had me initially concerned but works well to tie this to these characters’ shared history with current events (including a touching mention of Johnny’s death brilliantly delivered to the page by Coello’s pencils). The tag-team pencilling of Talibao and Coello is working well and though it is possible to distinguish where one starts and the other ends it’s not jarring and doesn’t distract from this gripping story. Pak’s study of Norrin’s newly found freedom and, in the same breadth, powerlessness is masterful, and those initial moments where Radd throws himself body and mind into his efforts to free Suzi Endo are really quite moving. This look set for a thumping finale and I can’t wait to find out where things will be left. 9/10


MALIGNANT MAN #2
Writers: James Wan & Michael Alan Nelson
Art: Piotr Kowalski & Jordie Bellaire
Boom! Studios $3.99

Matt C: After a decent debut issue, this sophomore effort sees things take a bit of a dive. The story works when it’s on the move with our protagonist on the run from evil forces intent on his demise, but roughly halfway through here it grinds to a halt to make way for an excessive slab of exposition that pretty much saps the mystery and intrigue from the proceedings, in an often embarrassing manner. The art still packs in a lot of energy and I still have enough curiosity to see where things will end up, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in groaning when I laid eyes upon that final page reveal. Hopefully they’ll be able to regain some momentum now they’ve got all the explaining out of the way, as I did feel there was definite potential here. 5/10


HULK #33
Writer: Jeff Parker
Art: Gabriel Hardman & Elizabeth Breitweiser
Marvel $2.99

Stewart R: Okay, so it doesn’t turn out to be the huge royal rumble, an orgy of destruction that the cover suggests it could be but that doesn’t stop this from being a rip-roaring Hulk-ride of emotion and action. Parker has slowly made it easier for the reading audience to warm to Red Hulk as he’s been forced to go on the run and been bombarded and attacked by enemies from all sides. As he’s grown wearier from each attack the gruff edge of Thunderbolt Ross seems to have melted away some and that’s incredibly evident in this issue where the efforts to keep Ross awake and moving in his gamma form take him and his LMD (Life Model Decoy for those not in the know) crew to an aircraft graveyard so that he can catch a small break and reminisce a little. Suffice to say when all hell breaks loose it’s evident that Parker has managed to craft this tale in such a way that seemingly hardened and tough characters, and not just Hulks here, can be and are vulnerable - when Hardman then lays that out on the page the tension is terrific. The artist’s work on this book to date has been tremendous and this is another instalment that both he and Parker can be incredibly proud of. 8/10


G.I. JOE #166
Writer: Larry Hama
Art: Ron Wagner, Gary Erskine & J. Brown
IDW $3.99

Stewart R: Sometimes Larry Hama’s simple, almost retro approach to handling these characters doesn’t work and sometimes it’s a joy to behold. The previous couple of issues had suffered a little from the ‘ham dial’ being turned up to ‘squealtastic’ but that’s now easily overlooked thanks to an issue that shows just how good G.I. Joe was and can still be today. This is a Joe battle scribed with the same blunt, colourful pen used to write the comic of the 1990s and it’s good, fun entertainment. Following the Baronesses’ rescue the Joe’s uncover the hidden Cobra base in New Jersey, the tensions within the Cobra hierarchy reach a head and a whole lot of ordinance is unleashed from pier to the seabed and in every other direction in between. Hama makes a sensible choice to keep the sea battle relatively low-key in terms of participants and Wagner really does capture that simple high-speed and frenetic action that made me fall in love with this comic book world back in my youth. The only disappointment is that Hama still doesn’t seem to know how to dial down the crazy Cobra Commander personality as he’s spoiling a decent book otherwise. 7/10


SECRET WARS II #7
Writer: Jim Shooter
Art: Al Milgrom, Steve Leialoha & Juliana Ferriter
Marvel $0.75

Matt C: Possibly the best issue yet as Mephisto corrals a plethora of villains and, with the assistance of some cosmic deities, hatches a plan to destroy the Beyonder lest he attempt to eradicate Mephisto’s beloved Death permanently (like he did last issue, temporarily). I’ve always been fond of Mephisto as a character – hey, who doesn’t like a Satan analogue who tortures souls for all eternity as a form of amusement? – and Shooter handles him well here, and having the Thing as the Beyonder’s saviour is a nice twist considering Ben Grimm’s assertion that omnipotent one ruined his life. What stops this being a great issue is the presence of Doctor Doom in Mephisto’s villainous army. Surely the architect of the Beyonder’s near defeat in the original Secret Wars series would attract his attention? It certainly did when they met in Fantastic Four #288! I guess we could assume it’s Kristoff rather than Victor Von Doom, but it’s enough of a distraction having him there that it kind of dilutes the impact of an issue that’s generally more successful than what’s come before. 7/10

4 comments:

Brett said...

It would appear that the reprinting of a full issue of another title in the back of a popular comic for free may be a bit of an initiative for Marvel, as a few months ago they did the same thing, reprinting Avengers Academy #1 in the back of another comic.

Matt C said...

I approve of this initiative! Excellent may to try something you may otherwise overlook.

Tom P said...

Me too! It worked ordered my copy this week! I agree with Stew, Ironman was ace this week inloved the smackdown between Tony and the "Worthy" it was great. But so far Rocketeer was my highlight. A real Gem of a book. The Ultimate stuff kicked ass this week too. A great week for it!

Rob N said...

I agree re: reprinting a recent title as a 'taster'. I started buying the excellent 'Chew' because Image did that with issue one. Otherwise it might have passed me by for ages.

- Rob N